Boskoned!

I am home from Boskone and very nearly recuperated. I had a great time, but I ignored the advice that an hour of being on a panel is like three hours of attending them, and it was to my detriment.

Said panels went well, I think. In “Is the Internet Reprogramming Our Brains?” I did want to make the point that we as a society seem to be engineering away boredom, and that this is a bad thing: I feel like we need the time to process our thoughts, which is why I seek out physical labor (doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, going to the gym) as a way of clearing my head. However, I found it difficult to find a way to raise the argument that “boredom is good!” in front of an audience of people I was supposed to be entertaining. I found an excellent summary of the panel here, complete with Charles Gannon’s book recommendations. The “marshmallow test” is Walter Mischel’s experiment at Stanford, which tested a number of children in terms of their ability to delay gratification, and the follow-on studies that seem to show that those children who were best at it, went on to perform well in life. My question: is the focus on instant gratification prevailing in Internet app design undermining that skill?

Another point I wanted to raise (partly in jest): will future generations of kids, used to being able to fact-check in a second, be completely unable to understand the character of Cliff Clavin?

“Rise of the Machines, Reconsidered” was a really enjoyable panel, at least for me. Of the three panels, it was the only one where I actually (briefly) forgot that I was in front of an audience instead of just having a conversation. It could have been twice as long: I’d have especially liked to talk a bit more about software; the military robotics discussion was in keeping with the panel description, but I think it lost the audience a bit. My take on the broader subject is that I don’t think that physical robots and artificial intelligences will overlap as much as in the literature. Intelligence is likely, in my opinion, to be diffuse and ubiquitous. The ability of a process to fork is, I think, under-appreciated in depictions of artificial intelligence. The panel description listed three movies that the future of robotics might look like; I’d planned to opt for a fourth, Disney’s _Beauty and the Beast_: ubiquitous but dim hyper-specialized devices designed to be maximally pleasant to interact with.

“Safety and Security — Now and in the Future” was my first turn at moderating. I need to spend more time thinking about how that went. I was nervous at the outset about running out of questions, and I think that led to me not exercising enough guidance. It went to some interesting places that way, and I think the audience was entertained, but we were a bit off-topic for much of the panel. The theme of the panel that did emerge was that planning ahead and clear thinking are vital, and some good points were made along with that theme. Solid decision-making chains, go-bags and checklists: outsource your thinking when you’re at your most emotional and confused, either to someone who’s not in the thick of it, or to yourself-in-the-past. The prize for surprising the hell out of me goes to Jim Macdonald, discussing hazmat rescue: apparently the best way to evacuate people without contaminating your ambulance (a vital concern!) is to put gauze over their eyes, so they don’t see what you’re doing, and zip them into bodybags.

Anyway, to those of you who came by, thank you very much. To those who couldn’t attend, I hope I see you there next year!

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